The chances are good that you’ve played table tennis, also known as pingpong, in a rec room or someone’s basement. But the game began as an upper-class activity in late 19th-century England, sometimes using improvised equipment such as Champagne corks and cigar box lids. Today, tens of millions of competitive and recreational players enjoy the game. Women have played for a table tennis world championship since 1926, while women’s doubles was an Olympic event from 1988 through 2004. The basic rules of singles and doubles are the same, except for the order in which you and your partner may play the ball in doubles.
Tell your partner where you’re going to serve, and how you’ll move after the serve, before you hit the ball. Your partner must hit the next shot -- unless your serve isn’t returned -- so discussing your strategy in advance helps her take the best possible position.
Serve the ball from the right side of the table to the left side of the opponent’s half of the table, from your perspective. The center line is part of the allowable service area.
Alternate serves between partners. If you serve first, for example, your partner serves during your team’s next opportunity. Likewise, if you return serves during your opponent’s first service opportunity, your partner must receive the next time the other team serves. A service opportunity includes two serves.
Discuss your movements with your partner before each game because you’ll be alternating shots throughout the match. Each player must move away from the table after hitting a shot to let her partner get in position for the next return, so your movements should be coordinated. You can either move laterally or backward after you hit a shot. But be prepared to change your plan as the action proceeds. If your partner moves into your intended path as she plays a shot, adjust your position accordingly as she makes her return so you have a clear path to the table.
Observe the correct order of play for each four-shot sequence. If you serve, for example, your partner must make your team’s first return, or vice versa. If you receive the serve, your partner handles your team’s next return, or vice versa. As a result, each player hits the ball once within the first four shots, which includes the serve -- unless, of course, someone wins the point first, in which case play ends and a new point begins. Continue the same pattern if the point extends beyond four shots, with the server hitting the fifth shot, the initial returner the sixth, etc. Playing out of sequence results in the loss of the point.
Play your shots with your partner’s position in mind. If your partner is waiting on your left, for example, playing a shot to the left side of the table -- from your perspective -- leaves your partner vulnerable to a shot hit to the right side of your table. As a rule of thumb, if your partner is waiting on your left, hit the ball to your right, and vice versa.
Observe your opponent’s positioning and take advantage of any weaknesses. For example, if your opponents like to move straight forward and backward as they alternate shots, hit the ball up the middle whenever possible. This strategy places the opponent who’s hitting the ball directly in her teammate’s intended path.
Score doubles points the same way you score points in singles. In general, you win a point when your shot hits the opposite side of the table and your opponent can’t return the ball to your side. You also win the point when the ball bounces twice on the opponent’s side of the table, or if your opponent volleys the ball by hitting it in the air before it has a chance to strike her side of the table.
Score 11 points to win a game. Points are awarded collectively to each team. For example, it doesn’t matter whether your team wins points while you’re hitting or while your partner is hitting. However, you must win a game by a margin of two points. If the score reaches 10-10, continue playing until one team gains a two-point margin.
Win more games than your opponent to capture the match. If you’re playing a five-game match, for example, the first team to win three games wins the match. You don’t have to win by a margin of two games, so if a five-game match is tied at two games apiece, the team that wins the fifth game wins the match.
- One point will rarely make or break a match. If your partner makes a mistake, or you miscommunicate and collide while you’re moving, just shrug it off and focus on winning the next point, rather than blaming your partner for the mistake.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.